Thursday, November 17, 2005

Black dogs as spiritual guardians

Intriguing article by Bob Trubshaw from "At the Edge - Exploring new interpretations of past and place in archaeology, folklore and mythology". He gives mythological background on Celtic canines, Friar Tuck's fifty hounds, Egyptian and Greek canine guardians, and much more!

Black Dogs: Guardians of the corpse ways
Bob Trubshaw

If the folklore of phantom black dogs is exceptionally rich then the mythology of dogs shows they have been not only man's close companions for many millennia, but also providing a very specific spiritual guardianship.

Guardian hounds occur widely in shamanic Otherworldly lore. The Altaic shaman encounters a dog that guards the underworld realm of Erlik Khan. When the Yukaghir shaman follows the road to the kingdom of shadows, he finds an old woman's house guarded by a barking dog. In Koryak shamanism the entrance to the land of the dead is guarded by dogs. A dog with bared teeth guards the entrance to the undersea land of Takakapsaluk, Mother of the Sea Beasts, in Eskimo shamanism [1]. The custom of burying a dog and the skin of a favourite reindeer with a dead man was still current among Ugrian people of Siberia earlier this century [2].

The notion of dogs as spiritual guardians fits the separate folklore of 'Church Grims'. These perhaps derive from the belief that the first person to be buried in a churchyard would have to guard any subsequent inhumed souls. Baring-Gould put forward the belief that it was the custom to sacrifice a dog, specifically one without a single white hair, in the foundations of the church - although direct evidence is lacking. In Scandinavia a similar practice more commonly use a lamb, but the creature was still known as the Kirkogrim [3].

The dog is the oldest domestic animal, traceable to the paleolithic, since when dogs have enjoyed a peculiarly close relationship with humans, sharing their hearths at night and guarding the home, working during the day as sheepdogs or hunters. This close symbiotic relationship with people is reflected in the early literature where dogs seem to have clear connections with the Otherworld. But this is not unique to hounds as many species from bulls, boars, to owls and cuckoos have clear associations with deities which lead to ritual veneration. However, archaeological evidence and mythology brings recurring examples of a very specific role for dogs. They are the 'psycopomps', the guides on the paths to the Otherworld, the guardians of the 'liminal' zone at the boundaries of the worlds.

To continue the article please go here.


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